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Dr. Robert Diaz Interviews Renowned Scholar and Upcoming Guest Speaker, Dr. Martin Manalansan

Aug 20/12

Dr. Robert Diaz, Assistant Professor in the Women and Gender Studies Program, introduces upcoming guest speaker Dr. Martin Manalansan, who is a scholar on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered migration. The lectures is on September 12, 2012 at 1:00 PM  (DAWB 2-108) and is entitled “Fabulosity and Precarity: Migrancy and Queerness in the 21st Century”. The event is open to the public.

Robert: Hello Dr. Manalansan! Thanks for agreeing to give at public lecture at Wilfrid Laurier University on September 12th, 2012 (2-108 DAWBS, 1:00PM - 2:20 PM). We are excited that you are coming, and would be thrilled to learn more about your current research. Can I ask a few questions as a way of introducing you to the WLU community?


Martin:  Sure, it will be my pleasure to answer them.


Robert: We could start with a more basic question, what are your primary areas of interest and foci?


Martin: My topical areas of interest include:  globalization, immigration, sexuality and gender, food and culture, the body - senses, emotions and affect, science and technology, urban life and cultures, mass media including film, televisions and new media.  My geographic areas of interests are the United States and the Philippines.


Robert: What made you interested in working with these communities (immigrant, LGBT, Filipino)?


Martin: I strongly believe that one primary impetus for any research project is biographical. I embarked on my dissertation project which was study of Filipino gay immigrants at a moment in the late 80s when Filipinos had the highest number of AIDS cases among Asian Americans and several friends and acquaintances were dying from it.  I undertook the project under those kinds of conditions.  Because of that, I do not see this project as merely an intellectual exercise but rather a major part of my own life.


Robert: Are there any challenges in pursuing this topic?


Martin: AIDS, sexuality, and immigration were and still are very sensitive topics. When I was conducting fieldwork in 1990s, people were very hesitant to talk about any of these topics. Although at the same time, people were also compelled by the dismal conditions of the pandemic and they felt an obligation to not just be interviewed but to bear witness.


Robert: It seems to me that issues of gender and sexuality are important to your work. What have your experiences been of teaching LGBT material?


Martin: Things have shifted from the late 80s to the 21st century. It used to be – at least during the 90s when  I would preface any LGBT material that I would use in the classroom with a kind of warning. “You are all adults here…etc.”  LGBT topics were controversial until I would say at the turn of the century. Today, there is an element of sophistication about the topics that many students derive from popular culture. Having said that, I also think there is a kind of amnesia and a kind of apathetic dismissal of LGBT experience as being something from the past and has little to no relevance to what is happening today. LGBT experience – at least for the general American student population – is more artifact-like rather than something that fuels various aspects of social life.  Barring all media spectacles of gay marriage and gays in the military, American students seem to find LGBT topics too blasé.   


Robert: Having read your book Global Divas: Gay Filipinos in the Diaspora (love the title by the way), I've always wondered what attracted you to the city. How long did you live in New York, and did you grow up there?


Martin: The city is an important site for inhabiting what we call the “modern” or “modernity.”  I was born in Manila but I arrived to New York City in 1984.  In both cities, the cultural diversity of inhabitants, the density of the built environment and the fast-paced tedium of daily life are very powerful sources of intellectual and emotional energy for me and are major reasons why, as an anthropologist, I have chosen to work in an urban setting rather than the more traditional ethnographic venue of the remote village.


Robert: As a follow up question, what did you learn from your experiences in the city, or the experiences of your informants?


Martin: After all these years of conducting research in both Manila and New York City, I am in awe of the dramatic transformations that have occurred.  I think that urban life in the 21st century is the primary site for new modes of sociality and being in the world.   People learn to live with the cramped, crowded and noisy urban environments.  They develop bodily dispositions that drown out, sideline or defuse the sensory chaos and fast-paced rhythms of urban life.  While these might be seen are models of survival, as an anthropologist, I see them as novel ways of being human.


Robert: I always tell students that what we learn in the classroom can have implications outside. So, aside from being an academic and pursuing research, what other things are of interest to you? Have you done community work in the past?


Martin: I worked in two AIDS service agencies in New York City for 10 years.  One of these agencies was devoted to providing AIDS related support and education services to Asian Americans. I have always worked with the idea of contributing to community life (however one might define community at various times and contexts).  My book, Global Divas for example have been used by various non-profit agencies in their funding proposals to various governmental and private foundation sources.


Robert: The talk is being co-sponsored by Women and Gender Studies, so I was wondering whether you had some thoughts about what the possible benefits are of majoring in such a field?


Martin: I strongly believe that the best social theory, most innovative interdisciplinary research and most provocative insights are being done in Women and Gender Studies programs and department. While conservative politicians have decried the lack of utility and relevance of majors in Women and Gender Studies, I would argue to the contrary. At this moment of economic and social precarity, we do not need universities and colleges to be producing passive drones for the workforce but rather people who will be great visionaries, people who will help re-structure society and not to continue with business as usual. Those who major in Women and Gender Studies will be able to influence policies that will help shape lives. The real lessons of the economic downturn of the 21st century has to do with creating alternative futures that do not rely neither on old models of big government nor on policies for deregulation,  increasing privatization and economic competition.  Who would be in a better position to engage with such problems but those who major in Women and Gender Studies?


Robert: What are you looking forward to, as the Fall term begins again?


Martin: I look forward to finishing my two book projects, Queer Dwellings (the talk I will give is based on one of the chapters) and also to travel to the Philippines at the end of this year to visit family and to hopefully jumpstart  a project on a cultural study of Manila as a world city.


Robert: As a teaser, what will your lecture on September 12th cover? The title certainly sounds interesting: Fabulosity and Precarity: Migrancy and Queerness in the 21st Century


Martin: The lecture is about the how undocumented immigrant queers of color inhabit spaces and routines in their daily lives. Oftentimes, we think of undocumented immigrants as living dreary lives and portrayed in terms of numbers and statistics. In the talk, I want to provide a highly detailed and microcosmic view of the lives of six undocumented queers who live together in a cramped apartment in Queens, New York.  By narrating the everyday lives of this household, I want to animate and provoke discussions about how lives are lived today, how people cope, fail, move on, get stuck, are displaced, or settle down.  In other words, the lecture is a meditation of life in the 21st century. 

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